Married same-sex couples face legal limbo in Oregon
March 20 2004 12:00 AM ET
The marriage certificates recently issued to gay and lesbian couples are not being filed with other marriage licenses in Oregon's vast vital-records database. According to the Eugene Register-Guard and Corvallis Gazette-Times, the state is storing the marriage certificates of gay and lesbian couples separately until a decision is reached in the same-sex marriage issue. "The state's position is that these are not recognized as valid marriages," said Jennifer Woodward, state registrar for vital records. "Until we have a legal decision that says otherwise, they won't become part of the vital-records system." The state's denial of married status to same-sex couples means that some of the rights and privileges gay and lesbian couples thought they had won won't yet be extended to them. It also nullifies some of the recognition of equal rights they thought they'd achieved when Benton and Multnomah counties decided to issue the marriage licenses.
The segregation of issued licenses leaves more than 2,000 marriages in legal limbo, considered
valid by the issuing counties but not by the state. The directive came as part of Atty. Gen. Hardy Myers's legal opinion, issued last Friday, on whether counties could issue licenses to same-sex couples. Gov. Ted Kulongoski also ordered all state agencies to comply with statutes that prohibit same-sex marriage based on Myers's opinion, a spokesman with the state attorney general's office said Thursday. "The bottom line is, the state is not going to accept marriage certificates from either Multnomah or Benton counties when they start issuing them," said Kevin Neely of the attorney general's office. "The state will not be certifying these marriages."
Dave Fidanque, executive director of the Oregon American Civil Liberties Union, said the conflict leaves thousands of couples in jeopardy and invites a lawsuit. "It's fairly obvious the state has been trying to put itself in the position that we can sue them, and we plan to," he said. Same-sex couples in Oregon caught in limbo between the state and counties won't be eligible to change their names like opposite-sex couples are able to do when they get married. They also won't be recognized as married for state or federal tax purposes, and their marriage records will be put in storage until the state supreme court rules on the issue.